High Downtown Vacancies
Despite Light Rail

Light rail is often claimed by proponents to have significant development and land use impacts. While there is little evidence of this, it is to be expected that the sector of the community most likely to benefit from light rail would be downtown, which is the only destination in US urban areas to which public transit is capable of carrying a significant market share (It is only to downtown that transit is able to provide "automobile competitive trips," high quality service that competes with automobile travel times).

The latest available data (9/1999) shows downtown Dallas to be among only four downtown areas with vacancy rates above 20 percent, at 32.0 percent, and second worst only to Oklahoma City. This situation has not improved since light rail was opened (June 1997).

  • Among the 40 largest metropolitan markets surveyed (to provide some perspective, number 40 is Columbus, Ohio), downtown Dallas' vacancy rate exceeds the second most distressed (downtown Detroit, at 19.3 percent) by more than 80 percent, and remains well above the 17.3 percent rate of Fort Worth/Arlington, the 9.8 percent rate of Houston and the national downtown average of 9.0 percent.

  • By comparison, a year before light rail opened in Dallas (6/1995), the downtown vacancy rate was 34.6 percent, compared to 20.4 percent in Detroit, 19.1 percent in Fort Worth/Arlington, 22.4 percent in Houston and the national downtown average of 15.3 percent.

  • Vacancies and trends in downtown Dallas are worse than that of other Sun Belt cities (such as Phoenix, Atlanta and Austin) and worse even than cities known for some of the most "at risk" downtown areas (Cleveland and St. Louis).

  • In 6/1995 the downtown Dallas vacancy rate was 126 percent higher than the downtown national average. By 9/1999 it had escalated to 256 percent.

The table below compares downtown Dallas data with that of other downtown areas and the national downtown average.

Downtown Dallas Vacancy Rates Compared to
Other Downtowns and the National Average

Downtown Areas 9/1999 6/1995 Change
Dallas 32.0% 34.6% -7.5%
Selected Downtown Areas
Atlanta 13.0% 18.0% -27.8%
Austin 7.1% 20.4% -65.2%
Cleveland 10.4% 19.2% -45.8%
Detroit 19.3% 20.4% -5.4%
Fort Worth/Arlington 17.4% 19.1% -8.9%
Houston 9.8% 22.4% -56.3%
Indianapolis 12.4% 18.1% -31.5%
Minneapolis 5.8% 10.4% -44.2%
Phoenix 10.1% 16.9% -40.2%
Portland 6.1% 9.7% -37.1%
Seattle 2.6% 6.3% -58.7%
St. Louis 16.5% 18.9% -12.7%
Number in Survey 46 48  
National Downtown Average 9.0% 15.3% -41.2%
Dallas Compared to National Average 255.6% 126.1%  
Source of Data: CB Richard Ellis

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